Some of you may already have seen the Goldenhead story. For those who have not, here is the first part. You will need to read this as we shall be carrying on from here. I do hope you will enjoy it – and for some of you it may ring some bells.
Susan rested both her hands on the window ledge. It felt reassuringly solid. The paint was cracked and warmed by the afternoon sun. The rough, dusty surface prickled against her soft, invalid’s hands and the heat almost burned them, but not quite. It was like getting into a hot bath and becoming used to it. The slight pain was, in any case, a partial affidavit of reality. Did people not pinch themselves to ensure they were not dreaming? Did that really work?
Oddly, she did not quite recall getting from her bed to the window, though the journey was always a small trial to her weak legs when no one was there to assist her.
There was a crash. She swiveled her body, still supporting herself against the window ledge. A beast had landed behind her, huge, hairy and masculine: half again the height of a man and with great tufts of fur growing from its cheeks – really fur, not just beard. The floor shook as it landed. The china cabinet rattled loudly, yet nothing moved, as if only its aethyric and not its physical weight had been affected by the shock.
So it was a dream, for all the hotness of the prickly, cracked paintwork. When you know it is a dream, you can do anything. Fly; evaporate the monster in a flash of light: anything you can imagine, you can do. But she couldn’t. Her feet seemed rooted winglessly to the ground. This ‘reality’ seemed as gross and stubborn and stupid as the physical one.
He beast reached for her hip. She felt the closeness of its paw and then heard a yelp as it withdrew the great brawny arm, as if it had been burned. Burned hands. A theme of this dream, it appeared.
The beast snarled. She smelled its rank breath. It seemed very real. Very un-dream-like. She felt panic seize her. This was terrifying. Come: she knew she was dreaming; she could at least awaken. But she couldn’t. It seemed so hard and real. The beast bore down upon her. Would she awaken at the last minute? Or was this something other than a dream?
Drums beat rhythmically, warlike and orderly.
“Unhand that girl.” The voice was feminine but stern and bold. Her shoulder was released and she turned back toward the window. A party of girl-soldiers was marching up the unkempt garden path toward them. Rifles were leveled, drums were beating and the lieutenant in charge was brunette and very handsome.
“Back away from her,” she commanded. “We have you in our sights.”
Two brutal steps shook the chinaware (or some level of it) as the thing moved backward. Then it leapt upward and was gone. Through the ceiling, perhaps?
“Are you well, honored madam? I hope you were not too frightened.” The lieutenant saluted, touching her right hand to her left shoulder. Then she bowed.
Susan bowed in return, bending forward over the warm, crackled window-ledge, holding its heat again with her soft, white, invalid’s hands..
“I am well enough, fair soldier. It is only a dream, after all.”
“Do you think so, ma’am?” asked the Lieutenant.
“I am fairly certain,” said Susan with a smile.
“Fairly certain?” The soldierly stiffness seemed to be giving way to an impish quality. “You need to be more assured than that to dismiss a dream, you know. Here, let me help you. These fine warrior-maids are certainly made from the stuff of dreams, or illusion at any rate. She gestured and her troop shimmered like reflections in a pool and faded into the bright sunlight.”
“And you, honored officer?”
“There, you address me so correctly, honored madam.”
“In this dream it seems obvious how to address you, noble defender. And are you not forged also of the stuff of dreams?”
“My shape and habit most certainly is.” The lieutenant shimmered like her troop. The hungry sunlight of mundane reality ate her form, yet there was something left. A much smaller figure, like a little girl with small wings and huge, huge, anime eyes.”
“I hope I do not disappoint you. I am sure the noble brunette was more to your taste. But here I am, for what I am, as real and respectable as anything else. Or as real, at any rate.”
Susan sighed. “You know I should like to believe that, but I know I am dreaming you; dreaming or half-imagining.”
“If you are half-imagining, what is the other half, honored madam?”
“I try cleverly to beguile myself with your arguments.”
“You, madam, are a solipsist.”
“Sadly, no. I believe in the world outside that window: in trees and grass; in governments and money; in motor cars and jobs and careers and men and marriage and worldly cynicism and a whole teeming world that has no place for the likes of me. But I no longer believe in imaginary friends and imaginary worlds and bold lady soldiers in coats of red, and anime-eyed pixie-kin such as – forgive me honored little friend – such as you.”
“Grown up, have you? Taken the King’s Shilling and turned State’s evidence against your own kind? Is that what you think you’ve done?”
“I have ceased to deceive myself, even though I argue so hard to maintain my sweet illusions out of your pretty mouth.”
“Grown up,” said the pixie girl with all the subtle-world of contempt in her voice. “Well, you left it too late. Six months ago you might have gotten away with it.”
“And now, honored little friend?” asked Susan, smiling sadly at her own attempts to resist the inevitable.”
“You’ll see.” Said the pixie with a certain knowing smugness in her voice.
“I see indeed. My subconscious couldn’t think of anything.”
“That thing will be back in a moment. It will guess I have tricked it. Why do you think it reached for your hip?”
“I suppose my fantasies have a mildly adult tint these days.”
“Stuff and piffle. It wanted your pistol.”
“Yes, the Raihira-pistol you were given two years ago to protect yourself, that hangs invisibly at your side.”
“I had forgotten that – at least, my conscious mind had. I became well enough to go to a school for a few weeks. I was often very afraid. The thought of that gun by my side was a comfort, though I really knew a gun of air could do no real good or harm.”
“Not to the relatively innocuous beasts that might have attacked you on your way to school, it is true. But it is a powerful weapon, nevertheless. One of the most powerful given to a private individual such as yourself, honored ma’am. A miniature of the great Raihira-cannon on the Imperial Princess. At its highest setting it can knock a fighter-craft out of the sky or demolish a small building. Will you humor me by drawing it?”
“I’ll humor you, honored little friend.”
Susan drew the invisible weapon. She could see it fairly well, being, she presumed, in a dream or a very powerful daydream. She spun it in her hand like a cowboy – a thing she could never have done in real life.
“Put it on the setting one above the lowest,” said the imp in a tone of urgency.
Susan clicked the little switch.
There was a crash as the tufted man-thing landed on the floorboards again.
“Just in time. Dream-timing is so elegant, isn’t it.”
“Never mind that, honored ma’am. Blast the beast.”
Susan felt again the closeness of the beast. It was as real as before. For a moment the sheer aggression and weight of its presence brought back the sense of panic. Her self-cynicism gave way momentarily to fear.
She leveled the pistol and pulled the trigger. A wide beam of what looked like yellow light expanded out of the slender muzzle. By the time it hit the creature it was perhaps thee feet square. Her attacker was smashed in to the wall with extraordinary force. The wall shuddered and broke. The chinaware fell and broke. The beast was gone.
The room was also back to normal. Nothing broken or even slightly disturbed.
“Remarkable the way everything can be set right in dreams,” said Susan.
“What you broke were the subtle bodies of gross things. So long as the gross things retain their shapes, their subtle bodies will re-form around them. But tell the truth – aren’t you glad you had that pistol?”
Susan re-holstered it with an involuntary flourish. She covered her face with her hands.
“The truth? Yes, I felt relieved. The truth? I wish the relief – I almost wish the threat – were no deception. Even such a threat would be better than being marooned on this dull world of beings so strange to me – stranger even than that beast. But you can no longer deceive me. I can no longer deceive myself through you. I don’t want to grow up. I see nothing in it that will do me a bit of good or make me even slightly happy, but reality has to be faced.”
“Reality, reality!” sang the imp in a sweet, mocking voice. “There are a thousand and twenty-seven brands of reality, and they’ll all have to be faced, my girl” (here she wagged a finger just like a grown-up admonishing daydreams to their so-inevitable death) “They’ll every last one of them have to be faced.”
“What do you mean by that, exactly?” asked Susan.
“Ah, now, you see, I’ve piqued your curiosity, honored humanoid.”
“Remarkable that one can pique one’s own curiosity.”
“I have heard you humanoids say that if a person thinks one mad there is no way to disprove it, for everything one says is interpreted in the light of one’s supposed madness. How can I disprove it if you think everything I say to you, you are saying to yourself? Not, in fact that I am greatly concerned to disprove it: events will do that as they roll along in their natural tide. But as a matter of purely academical interest, what would you accept as proof?”
“If you could tell me something I really don’t know that proved to be true…”
“What do you mean by true?”
“I mean some objective fact in the physical world.”
“The physical world? You’re obsessed with that place, do you know that? Personally I can hardly see the place. But you’re thinking round in circles. Only the physical world can prove that anything other than the physical world exists? What sort of logic is that? What proof have you from this world that the physical world exists. And how do you know that this isn’t the physical world. There’s your window; there’s your garden. Where does one world end and another begin?”
“Oh, honored pixie, this is all sophistry. My subconscious is trying to tie me in knots, but it won’t work, though I half-wish it would.”
“You are obstinate, honored madam,” said the pixie crossly. You give so much weight to this physical world of yours for why? Simply because you spend so much time there. What kind of a reason is that? Well, you may be spending your time in other places from this out. You want a fact from your physical world? I’ll give you a fact from your physical world. That precious physical body of yours has run out of puff.”
“What – do – you – mean?” Susan stared at her soft, white invalid’s hands.
“No good looking there. Come and look over here.” The pixie-girl moved over toward Susan’s bed. Susan watched her, and then looked at the bed. It was not empty.
“No! I don’t want to see!” She screamed the words, but the scream did not strain her throat as a scream normally does. It was more like a dream-scream.
“You’d better come,” said the Pixie, a little more gently. She extended a hand. Susan came to her and took the hand. The touch was not like a physical touch, but it was definitely a touch. She looked at the bed and saw herself lying there, white and motionless.
Susan too was white. Her current body expressed that. “What has happened – am I – I mean the body, is it -”
“Dead? No. It is still breathing. But I don’t think it can wake up for a long time.”
“Is that what you call it?”
Susan tried to touch the forehead of her physical body. Was it cold and clammy – or was she just feeling her own expectation? The feeling was only half a feeling, as in a dream. Had the physical world taken on the misty status of the dream-world now? Or was this whole thing a dream in which she would soon awaken in her accustomed physical body?
She felt faint. Can one faint in a dream? Can one lose consciousness when one is unconscious already? The room span. Could a subtle body hit the floor or would gravity ignore it?
“That was just about the most tactless way you could have introduced the poor thing to the fact that she has lost the use of her physical body,” said Nurse Camilla. “No wonder she has reacted so badly. She was never strong. Why can’t you creatures ever try to be responsible?”
“Responsible?” said the pixie. “Wasn’t it I who saved her from that thing that got into her room?”
“And would a little delicacy over the matter of her condition have been so difficult?” The nurse seemed forbidding to a pixie in her starched white uniform.
“How was I to know it would upset her, honored ministress?”
“You knew well enough. You just became vexed.”
“She was being very aggravating with her nonsense about the physical world, and anything I said, she said it was her saying it to herself. That would irritate the very Angel of Love herself.”
“Don’t be profane. Now, she’s coming round.”
Susan opened her eyes slowly, wondering what world she would see.
“Nurse Camilla,” she said.
“Yes, dear. It is I.”